Tinley Park teacher also has brush with success
Tinley Park resident and artist Al Sorenson has had “brushes” with celebrities — a print of Bears legend Gale Sayers he has worked on recently comes to mind — but is very happy teaching his fifth-grade class at Fulton School.
“I like being able to help shape kids’ lives and have a good influence on them,” Sorenson said. “It’s kind of fun at the age I deal with — a bunch of 10-year-olds — having some control over helping them grow as a student and ... for me, it’s just as important to teach them to be better people.”
Sorenson, 45, a veteran teacher with Tinley Park Community Consolidated School District 146, said teaching has been an important part of his life for the past 20 years.
Another of his passions over those same 20 years — becoming a marketable artist — has been running a close second.
“I’ve been painting and drawing since I was 3, 4, 5 years old,” Sorenson said. “I started selling my work professionally in my early 20s, and over the years, it has just progressed.”
His first important sale was a drawing of Keith Magnuson of the Chicago Blackhawks for someone who wanted to give it to Magnuson as a gift, Sorenson said. Not long after, another patron commissioned a drawing of Stevie Nicks, of the musical group Fleetwood Mac.
Sorenson said when he saw the potential for income in his artwork, he wanted to do something a bit more special than just produce drawings of photographic quality.
“Everybody does realistic photo stuff,” Sorenson said. “I thought to myself, ‘Why spend a few hundred or a few thousand dollars on a painting that looks like a picture when you can just buy the picture?’ ”
Sorenson said he began “messing around” with a Leroy Neiman-style of impressionistic painting. Neiman, a modern artist who used bold colors and a feeling of movement in his paintings, had always fascinated him, Sorenson said.
The style clicked for Sorenson, and with the encouragement of his wife Cindy, who believed his talent deserved a wider audience, Sorenson began to attend art fairs and sports collectibles shows, creating a new source of income and an outlet for his artistic talents.
Although his work includes entertainment figures and still-life paintings, Sorenson’s forte is definitely sports, perhaps uniquely enhanced by his own athletic background.
At 6-foot-8, Sorenson not only looks like a basketball player, he was one.
Born and raised in Oak Lawn, Sorenson said he was considered “a very good basketball player” at Oak Lawn High School and was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2009.
Sorenson was recruited by Ripon College in Wisconsin, where he played basketball for four years and earned a degree in economics.
He went on to attend St. Xavier University, earned a degree in education and remained in sports as a basketball coach at Bremen and Oak Forest high schools for 10 years.
Sorenson also coached at the Michael Jordan basketball camps, meeting and playing basketball with the Bulls legend, Sorenson said.
“Basketball has given me quite a few experiences over the years,” Sorenson said, “all good ones.”
Sorenson continued to play basketball into his late 30s, he said, until three knee surgeries put an end to that.
As difficult as it was to quit playing, Sorenson said his artwork helped him “transition” out of sports.
“I think the artwork fills that competitive gap,” he said.
Sorenson has found ways to show his appreciation for his success through fundraisers, which he considers a win-win for both parties.
Considered “an artist with a conscience” by Gaylon Bullard, stepson to former Chicago Bears great Gale Sayers, Sorenson has been commissioned by the Gale Sayers Foundation to depict Sayers on a signed jersey to be auctioned at the foundation’s Kentucky Derby Party fundraiser.
“The art goes both ways for me,” Sorenson said. “I get to do the stuff that I love that people can buy and hopefully keep forever and pass down to their kids ... and the artwork, when it does sell, is going for a good cause. ... and the money is going to hopefully change some kid’s life in a better way.”
The Kentucky Derby Party will be held from 1 to 6 p.m. May 3 at John Barleycorn River North, 149 W. Kinzie St., Chicago. Tickets are $50 in advance and $75 at the door. A $150 VIP admission features an open bar and a “meet and greet” with photo opportunities with Sayers, Tony Esposito, Randy Hundley, Montell Griffin and actor Tony Plana.
The fundraiser will feature sports memorabilia — including Sorenson’s limited-edition embellished prints of Sayers on the playing field — the Kentucky Derby race live on more than 50 large, flat-screen televisions; a free buffet, Derby Day drink specials, a live auction of sports-oriented items and local and sports celebrities.
The event will benefit the Chicago Public Schools through grants, specifically “by implementing successful technology based learning,” according to the foundation’s website.
To buy tickets, call (312) 214-3999 or visit www.galesayersfoundation.com.